Supporters of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi clashed with police on Friday as hundreds of thousands joined nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations in defiance of the junta’s call to halt mass gatherings.
The United Nations human rights office said more than 350 people, including officials, activists and monks, have been arrested in Myanmar since the February 1 military coup, including some who face criminal charges on “dubious grounds”.
The UN rights investigator for Myanmar told a special session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that there were “growing reports, photographic evidence” that security forces have used live ammunition against protesters, in violation of international law.
The mass protests on Friday were mostly peaceful but were the biggest so far, and came a day after Washington slapped sanctions on generals who led the takeover.
Three people were wounded when police fired rubber bullets to break up a crowd of tens of thousands in the southeastern city of Mawlamyine, a Myanmar Red Cross official told Reuters.
Footage broadcast by Radio Free Asia showed police charging at protesters, grabbing one and smashing him in the head. Stones were then thrown at police before the shots were fired.
“Three got shot – one woman in the womb, one man on his cheek and one man on his arm,” said Myanmar Red Cross official Kyaw Myint, who witnessed the clash.
“The crowd is still growing,” he added.
Doctors do not expect a 19-year-old woman shot during a protest in the capital Naypyitaw on Tuesday to survive. She was hit in the head with a live round fired by police.
In the biggest city Yangon on Friday, hundreds of doctors in white duty coats and scrubs marched past the golden Shwedagon pagoda, the country’s holiest Buddhist site, and while in another part of town, football fans wearing team kits marched with humorous placards denouncing the military.
Other demonstrations took place in Naypyitaw, the coastal town of Dawei, and in Myitkyina, the capital of northern Kachin state, where young men played rap music and staged a dance-off.
Social media giant Facebook said it would cut the visibility of content run by Myanmar’s military, saying they had “continued to spread misinformation” after seizing power.
As Washington announced sanctions, European Union lawmakers on Thursday called for action from their countries and Britain said it was considering measures to punish the coup leaders.
Supporters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) welcomed the U.S. sanctions but said tougher action was needed.
“We are hoping for more actions than this as we are suffering every day and night of the military coup here in Myanmar,” Suu Kyi supporter Moe Thal, 29, told Reuters.
Myint Thu, Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told the special council session that his government wanted “better understanding of the prevailing situation in the country, and constructive engagement and cooperation from the international community.”
“We do not want to stall the nascent democratic transition in the country,” he said.
The coup has prompted the biggest demonstrations since a 2007 ‘Saffron Revolution’ that ultimately became a step towards now halted democratic change.
Friday’s protests marked the seventh consecutive day of protests, including one on Thursday outside the Chinese embassy where NLD supporters accused Beijing of backing the junta despite Chinese denials.
Security forces carried out another series of arrests overnight Thursday.
The junta remitted the sentences of more than 23,000 prisoners on Friday, saying the move was consistent with “establishing a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline” and would “please the public”.
The Frontier Myanmar news magazine reported the prisoners given amnesty included four supporters of a gunman who shot dead a prominent Suu Kyi ally and constitutional lawyer in 2017.
The US sanctions target 10 current and former military officials, including Min Aung Hlaing. It also blacklisted three gem and jade companies it said were owned or controlled by the military.
Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals are already under US sanctions over abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, and some analysts question whether the latest penalties will have much effect.
Derek Mitchell, former US ambassador to Myanmar and president of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, said US sanctions alone would have little impact without “tough messages” from US partners such as Japan, Singapore and India.
The protests have revived memories of almost half a century of direct army rule, punctuated by bloody crackdowns, until the military began relinquishing some power in 2011.
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest under previous juntas, remains hugely popular despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.
The generals have promised to stick to the 2008 constitution and hand over power after elections, but on Friday the junta said it would “work for the emergence of a constitution that is in alignment and harmony with the Democratic Federal Union”.
No date has yet been set for elections. — Reuters